Isaiah 36

Some plot! I’ve been starting to wonder about the structure of Isaiah’s many miscellaneous poems about destruction and disaster.  The text switches to prose for this chapter.

Assyria takes the northern kingdom, and then envoys come to threaten the southern, which includes Jerusalem. We get the conversation, which is taunting saying “who do you trust?” 

They are the strongest power. They laugh at the idea Egypt night help Israel. They joke at the idea God might help them, because king Hezekiah has removed the holy places they recognise out of his devotion to Jehovah.

They deliberately speak the common tongue so that the guards around can hear the sledging and be demoralised. 

The representatives of king Hezekiah say nothing, as instructed, and return to him in a state of fear, tearing their clothing.

End of chapter!

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2 Kings 23

The rest of Josiah’s reign. In a sense he was greater than David. Certainly he was the most godly King since David.

It simply says he loved the lord with all his heart. And he leads the people in that love.  So he actually does remove all worship of other Gods.

He celebrates Passover for the first time since time judges, pre the monarchy.

David, to give him his credit, couldn’t because the temple wasn’t set up.

There is a plan in this blessing of God’s I think. It’s setting a precedent for how the temple worship would operate post exile, though to Jesus day. It’s the true coming of monotheism to Israel. He makes a point of destroying the golden calf set up at Bethel by jeroboam, which reaches right back in tradition to the rebellion of the people in the book of exodus.

It’s a blessing to end the book on, the other end of the scale from Solomon, who squandered so much in a way.

And it really is end game after Josiah. Two of his sons become king in quick succession after he is killed in battle by the Pharaoh. The second son is a puppet king for Pharaoh, virtually his tax collector.  Yes after rediscovering Passover for the first time in many years, they are slaves of Egypt again.

1 Kings 6

The finished temple is glorious. It’s a labour of love and devotion for God, as good as they can make it.

It’s that awkward place where you are doing great work “for God”, and you get a certain pride in it, and you start to wonder if it’s for your own glory quite a bit too. My hobby is writing Christian songs, and it’s there all the time.

But endlessly wondering about motives is also a waste of time. St Paul said as long as Christ is proclaimed, yeah?

When God finally speaks mid chapter I think he’s thinking along similar lines. He says “about this house you are building…” And goes on to say that if they follow the law he will keep his promise and dwell among his people. How is that about the house? House not strictly needed.

For the rest of the chapter the “he” is disconcertingly Solomon, as in “he covered this in pure gold” or “he covered that in finest cedar”.

God doesn’t need their devotion to be expressed though architecture or expensive finishes, he needs it in their heart.

May the use of my time be an overflow of what is in my heart. I’ve been feeling a bit resentful about the time given to silly things at church but that is a good spirit to bring to it

Song: “Bigger than Hillsong”

Deuteronomy 27

New section. We’ve had all the rules now committing to them and the transition of leadership to settle the holy land.

They take a moment of silence and the priests declare them to be God’s people. 

First thing they will do is climb two mountains. Mountains equal meeting God.

One will be for curses, one for blessings.

The curse mountain has all the law written on some of its stones, and an altar for sacrifice also piled up of its uncarved stones.

They’ll do a fellowship offering, ie: one that celebrates God’s presence rather than removing sin. And they will formally declare that rejecting God, being greedy, unfair, uncaring to the vulnerable or sexually immoral will bring God’s curse.

It is a marker, a baseline, a resolution they will be able to look back on and test their society against. When they are deep in an argument about tribal boundaries, they will look back on this moment and remember declaring before God as a nation that they would be cursed if they ever did this.

I don’t remember becoming a Christian, I don’t have a moment of dedication of my life to God. Like the Israelites who would be born in the promised land, I have the choice to accept or forget every day the faith I was handed down by my parents. I pray for my children, and my witness to them. 

Deuteronomy 4

Spoiler alert for the rest of the Old testament.

Moses continues his final words before they all go to the promised land without him.

He focuses on the ban against idols. He wants them not to forget about it after a few generations or they will be overrun and exiled. He says that even if that happens God’s mercy will mean they are eventually returned.  As I said, spoiler alert.

The overall message is that there is one true God who deserves obedience. It serves as an introduction to a dissertation of the law.

One true God. If he is forgotten and other gods take over, it is a disaster, but his abiding character is mercy, and he will bring us back.

Praise him!

Exodus 39

The priestly garments. Yes, they are just like God specified on the mountain. The fringe of alternating pomegranate tassels and bells is a great detail.

Moses inspects everything, this amazing collection of items lovingly made to god’s specification from freely offered materials, and blesses it. The climax of almost 10 chapters describing their effort.

Live by his word and be blessed, eh?

2 Samuel 6

I’m getting old testament fatigue again. Reading the whole Bible means reading a lot of old testament… In terms of words it’s a ratio of about 3:10. 

And OT is exhaustingly culturally remote. You figure out one fiendishly difficult chapter one day and then there is another the next. Boom boom boom. It’s tiring. 

If you forget the hard bits, this one is quite simple and wonderful and momentous. David is king over united Israel. He has established Jerusalem as the capital, now he brings the ark in, the presence of God.

And David dances like a crazy humble loon as it is carried in, one of the Bible’s most appealing visions of pure joy in the whole Bible. 

But it’s so uncomfortable that a person dies, and a woman is seemingly struck barren for getting the tone wrong. 

And what is with the ark anyway. I thought God wanted to teach mankind that he lives in or hearts, why this object of veneration?

I turned to a commentary. They saw it, interestingly as a parable for ministry. 

The first attempt to get the ark back was where someone died. They made a special cart for it … God commanded that it be carried. When it fell, the guy who died reached out to steady it. God said you can’t touch it. He should have let it fall.

David was angry with god’s over the death, and left the ark out of Jerusalem for a long time after that. 

The commentators compared it to Christians who try to do what God wants, but do it their own way. In their enthusiasm to just “get it done” they fixated too much on the task and forgot the larger point that this was about honouring God. Disobedience does not honour God. 

I remember a church I was at was obsessed with the idea that the old pews were restricting their ministry, and started pulling them out without getting the necessary legal council permission. I think that was a small example of this principle. God doesn’t need our special cart.

Death was a strong way of teaching that, you may think, but God is creator, life is in his hands, we’ve learned that over and over by now. 

The woman who was barren was Michal, who is the ultimate bit player in this story. She was Saul’s daughter and David’s first wife. She helped him escape Saul, and then was given seemingly into bigamy as wife to another king by Saul, then called back at a tense point in the civil war. 

She has strong ideas how a king ought to act and dancing with no kingly dignity with the people in few clothes was not one of them. 

But she was letting her sense of what is proper kill her enthusiasm for God, sort of the opposite of the first attempt with the ark. 

The commentators noted that it is merely an editorial comment, not linked to god’s judgement that she never had children. 

We’ve learned in this book in particular to pay attention to that… Things aren’t of God just because they are there, you have to have it spelled out. It’s more like the tone of journalism than sermon.

They saw it as an ironic or symbolic observation by the writer of 2 Samuel. Her personal story echoed a spiritual barrenness that had characterised Saul’s reign. she remained too caught up in the pomp of earthly kingship, and less excited by heavens king.

So we’re all set up for Israel’s most glorious period. But the warnings are there too. With joy in God ‘s times of rich blessing remember obedience and humility. 

1 Samuel 22

So David goes into full fugitive mode, taking his parents away to a safe haven in another country, and returning to Israel to hide out in a cave. 

Saul in full murderous paranoid mode tracks down the priests who gave David bread in the last chapter. The lie he told them disguising his falling out with the king does not wash and the king has them killed for supporting David. 

One son of the priest escapes and makes it to David who is full of regret that his lie and contact with the priest caused the deaths of the priest’s whole family. 

A rebel army of those who have an issue with the king collect around David. A rag tag army of 400. 

It’s him or Saul. 

And Saul already knows it will be David. Samuel told him chapters ago. All this murderous rage is in defiance of God.

David thought he needed to lie to live out god’s destiny. Not so. We’ll never know what would have happened if he’d not lied to the priest, but surely god is strong enough to have protected his anointed, and David would not have had the priest’s blood on his hands. 

Saul should have known that his defiance of God was futile, but shouldn’t we all, shouldn’t we all.

God’s will is done despite our faithlessness. Our task is to accept it.

1 Samuel 15

Gods regret.

God regrets making Saul king. He simply will not obey. He clings to an external works based faith, but his heart is not true.

The demonstrations here are that god decided to obliterate the amelakites. People hate this, but by this stage into the story of God and humanity I’ve accepted it is God’s right to destroy nations. Death is universal for the human race, and the timing is all God’s prerogative.

But the destruction god brings is not to advantage others. The Israelites are to destroy everything, no plunder. This Saul does not obey. And he builds a monument to himself. And keeps their king, a traditional humiliation.

He excuses it by saying “the people told me to”. And offering some of the livestock they stole as offerings to God. But of course god requires obedience. Samuel bares the news.Saul kingship is over in all  but name. Jonathon will not be king. He’ll lose it during his lifetime.

The chapter is very sad. The fate of the spared king, who old Samuel must kill, is sad… His life is misery. A nightmare “beyond the bitterness death” as he puts it.

Saul asks Samuel to go through the motions one last time to offer a public sacrifice in a joint appearance, and Samuel allows him to save face that way, but then doesn’t come to him anymore.

But Samuel grieves for Saul all his days. There is love between the men, despite the sadness of Saul’s failure.

Obedience. Being real your heart.  I am not an obedient man. Make me more obedient father. Let me live your love.

1 Samuel 13

Going though the motions. Over and over in these old testament stories it’s about how quickly religion becomes a talisman, a superstition. 

The Israelites obviously feel unguided in their role as chosen people, but god wants their hearts to be their guide, to improvise life on the theme of loving God. 

Saul is preparing for battle here and Samuel, who must be really old by now, is late to do a sacrifice before. So Saul does it. 

It’s a false move, the sacrifice is not the point the point is obedience and trust. The chapter includes Samuel’s rebuke of Saul and ends in a cliffhanger with the enemy philistines starting the attack.

Obedience sometimes requires sitting on your hands. Trust requires admitting you aren’t able to fix a problem. Doing this consistently is hard for human nature. 

But there’s no other way…